After a year of spectacular success and crushing disappointment, Kyle Busch -- the NASCAR Sprint Cup driver many stock car racing fans love to hate -- is ready for 2009.
Busch, 23, won eight Cup races last year -- one short of Carl Edwards' nine wins -- and several more times in NASCAR's second-tier Nationwide and truck-racing series. Known for his aggressive driving style and cocky attitude that draws boos from many fans, Busch was a favorite to win his first Cup championship as NASCAR's 10-race Chase playoff began.
But Busch's No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota suffered mechanical problems in the first two races, and Busch's title hopes vanished before the Chase barely had started. Instead, Jimmie Johnson won his third consecutive championship.
As the new season approaches, Busch met with fans Wednesday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana -- site of the Auto Club 500 on Feb. 22 -- and talked with The Times about his career.
Question: How do you put last year in perspective?
"[I] pretty much forget about it, don't think about it, honestly. I didn't really think a whole lot about racing as soon as the season was over. Pretty much just hung low, worked on race cars, worked on taking some time off, worked on relaxing a little bit."Q:
Can you learn anything from a season like last year?A:
"There are things [the team] can learn to turn it around -- not have sway bar arms come off, not have blown engines the second race into the Chase, not have carburetor issues the third race into the Chase. There's really nothing I could have done any differently. If it was all my fault I could work on it, I could fix something. But I have no idea what went wrong [with the cars]."Q:
Are you prepared for not winning eight races again this year?A:
"I really don't foresee us winning eight races this year. If we happen to contend for wins and win some races, that's great. We'd like to get about five wins or so, but the competition has caught up so much and Carl [Edwards] and Jimmie [Johnson] are so strong that right now you've got to look at those guys as being the ones who are going to win the most races."Q:
How are you different as a person since you won your first Cup race in Fontana in 2005?A:
"You're recognized a lot more and you can't go out with your own privacy, you're a celebrity, and you're a figure now. That's sometimes frustrating, but it comes with who you are. I want to be a normal person. I want to be able to race race cars, have fun, do what I do, make the money I make and still be a normal person, but that will never happen again.
"I've grown up some. I think there are areas where I've improved. I think there are still areas where I need to improve."Q:
Have you become comfortable with your place in the sport, your personality within the group of Cup drivers?A:
"You'd like to be more well-liked but it is what it is. I'm happy with where I'm at, I'm happy with who I am. I've come a long way, I feel like, and hopefully there's still a little bit more room for me to grow. I'm sure I've rubbed people the wrong way and you're always going to rub somebody the wrong way."Q:
There was a span last summer when you won four Cup races in seven weeks, including at the road courses Infineon and Watkins Glen. Was that gratifying?A:
"It was. I also won the last Nationwide race at Mexico and made it three road-course wins in a NASCAR season. Nobody's ever done that before. So that was cool."Q:
How many of those wins would you trade for a championship?A:
"I'd trade them all. Winning races and filling the trophy case is also fun. I've got a goal in mind that I'd like to win at least one [Cup] championship, if not four, before my career is over. And my other goal is to win 200 NASCAR races, not just Sprint Cup races, but truck, Nationwide and Cup [together]."
Busch currently has 42. - www.latimes.com